10 Standards of Behavior Essential for Every Healthcare Organization [Part 6]

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We’re in the process of reviewing 10 Standards of Behavior. This week we review the last, but certainly not the least of the 10 Standards of Behavior, #10, Telephone Etiquette.

We are taking highlights from MedicalGPS’ service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts. We believe these 10 Standards of Behavior and customer service techniques are essential ingredients to your organization’s success.

  • Importance of Eye Contact
  • Patient’s Preferred Name
  • Patient’s Personal Details
  • Body Language
  • Open-ended Questions
  • Active Listening Techniques
  • Avoid Use of Medical Jargon
  • Proactively Demonstrate Courtesy and Respect
  • Waiting Room Rounding
  • Telephone Etiquette

10. Telephone Etiquette

It is easy to forget the value and importance of the telephone, especially in today’s world of electronic communication. For most patients the first impression of your practice is made long before the patient ever steps foot in the office — right there on the telephone.

Patient loyalty can be bolstered or destroyed with one phone call.

After analyzing more than 16,000 patient responses, our team determined the key touch points of the patient experience and found telephone interactions rank right behind the provider-patient encounter in terms of top determinants that foster patient loyalty.

If you’d like to download a copy of the findings, follow this link, enter your name and email address and you’ll receive a condensed recap of the study.

Hold Please

The telephone provides a small glimpse inside your practice and it helps set patient expectations. If a patient is greeted with a “hold please” or is instructed to navigate a list of several options from an automated “Phone Tree”, it is likely that their first impression may be their last.

By implementing just a few simple processes, your practice can improve staff communication, build patient loyalty, and ensure a positive first impression happens from the start.

First, a note about “Phone Trees”: If your practice still utilizes an automated answering device it may be time to rethink whether the automated “Phone Tree” is a benefit or a liability for your practice.

If you are convinced a “Phone Tree” is a must for your practice, keep the options to a minimum (not more than three), with the most requested option as the first selection.
Most importantly, after the patient selects an option, have a staff member ANSWER the call immediately after the selection is made.

For example, if the “Phone Tree” says, “For appointments press one” be sure there is adequate staff on-board so that the patient receives a personal greeting from a live human.
After selecting option #1, a warm and friendly greeting from a staff member, empowered to go ahead and book the appointment (especially if the patient has an acute access need) will meet and possibly exceed your patients’ expectations, making them happy along the way.

Implement a Three-Ring Rule

If the phone rings several times before being answered a patient may think the office is understaffed or poorly managed.

Impress upon staff the importance of answering inbound phone calls promptly, ideally within three rings. This is a simple strategy that will help make a positive first impression while providing excellent customer service.

Standard Office Greeting

A standard office greeting is a common best practice that many offices implement. A friendly professional greeting spoken with a smile, always makes a positive impression and sets the right tone.

An example greeting for staff members may include, “Good Morning, Dr. Smith’s office, this is [your name] how may I help you today?”

Use Common Language

Most patients do not understand medical terms or abbreviations. Use nontechnical language instead of medical jargon.

If the use of a medical term is absolutely necessary, try to offer the definition or clarify its meaning.

Request Permission to Place a Caller on Hold

Too often practices answer the phone by telling the patient to hold without taking the time to offer a greeting.

Placing the patient on hold without asking their permission does not make a positive impression and quite frankly it is rude.

Before placing a patient on hold, greet the patient, ask their permission to hold, wait for their answer, and then proceed.

A good example greeting: “Good Afternoon, Dr. Smith’s office, this is [your name] with whom am I speaking?” (wait for answer) “Thank you for your call [use patient’s name], I am assisting another patient right now, may I please place you on a brief hold? (wait for answer) Thank you for your patience, please hold.”

Always Remember to Check In with Patients

When speaking with patients over the phone, check in with them periodically to make sure they clearly understand instructions, what was discussed, or what was requested. If they sound confused, take the time to help explain further.

Showing empathy and having awareness of their feelings will go a long way in making a strong impression and building trust.

Always end the call positively by thanking the patient and wishing them well.

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